Makeover

Written by Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer December 28, 2011 04:42 pm

Bud and Brenda Ashcraft, owners of Bud Jacksonís Sportsmanís Bar and Grill, recently remodeled their tavern with help from  La Grandeís Urban Renewal District. The centerpiece of the project was an expanded dining room with added banquet space. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer
Bud and Brenda Ashcraft, owners of Bud Jacksonís Sportsmanís Bar and Grill, recently remodeled their tavern with help from La Grandeís Urban Renewal District. The centerpiece of the project was an expanded dining room with added banquet space. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer
 

Local businessman takes advantage of public-private partnership with Urban Renewal District to expand

Somebody who might have left La Grande for a long time and then returned for a visit surely would marvel at the changes at the tavern at 2209 Adams Ave.

For decades it was a little ramshackle watering hole known as the Eastside, and then for a short time after the turn of the century it operated under the name Bogey’s. Through all that time, it never was much more than a bar for good old boys.

Now, it’s Bud Jackson’s Sportsman’s Bar and Grill, looking much more imposing and known as much for its cuisine as for its liquor offerings.

That’s how owner Bud Ashcraft has always wanted it. It’s almost like a dream come true.

“The expansion has been wonderful,” he said. “It makes it look less like a bar and more like a restaurant. We really pride ourselves on our food.”

Ashcraft and his wife, Brenda, moved to La Grande from Portland in 2003. She was a transferred U.S. Post Office employee; he had years of experience in the vending machine business and wanted to open a bar.

“Most of my accounts in Portland were bars and taverns. I saw what worked and what didn’t,” Ashcraft said.

The night spot in downtown La Grande known as the Tropidara was for sale, and for a while Ashcraft considered it. In the end, he decided to look elsewhere. The Trop, he said, was too much building and had too many issues.

Short-lived Bogey’s was closed by that time and also up for sale. Ashcraft explored the deal, and in September he bought the place.

It wasn’t much of a place, at that.

“It was painted white, and if it wasn’t for a couple of beer signs, you could have mistaken it for a doctor’s office,” Ashcraft said.

He and his wife gave the place its new name, and worked to make it attractive. Over the years, they repainted, laid new tile and carpet, remodeled the restrooms, and, in anticipation of the state’s ban on smoking in taverns, built an outdoor smoking area.

Ashcraft said that last turned out to be a smart move.

“It was one of the best things we ever did,” he said. “The Restaurant Association was worried that the ban would keep gamblers from coming out to play the machines, but what it did was bring a whole new clientele who didn’t go to bars because they worried about coming home smelling like a cigarette.”

Bud Jackson’s got a big boost in 2010, when La Grande’s Urban Renewal District decided to spend some funds on improvement projects in the district.

The district had $250,000 available, wanted to use it to help businesses make improvements and also to build some successful public-private partnerships. A call for proposals went out district-wide.

Ashcraft said he saw in it a chance to upgrade his establishment to the place he wanted it to be.

“They said that if I could get a plan in place in two weeks, I could get half of $70,000,” he recalled.

Ashcraft’s plan to add more than 900 square feet to his existing building and make other improvements was one of six projects getting a nod of approval from the city’s Urban Renewal Advisory Commission. But first, there was some dickering to do.

The planned expansion would cost more than $90,000, but the commission recommended chipping in just $20,000. After some dickering, the commission decided on $35,000.

That recommendation was passed on to the city council — which is also the urban renewal board — and was approved.

The Ashcrafts launched into their makeover earlier this year.

The main thrust was to expand the west side of the building, doubling the floor space there.

The project was complete this fall. Today, the west section is a large dining area that can be sealed off with dividers for special events including banquets, musical events and dance lessons.

Ashcraft said his business has had its ups and down all along, but “more ups than down.”

Since the remodeling, he’s expanded his menu, and continues to tinker with it. In a former beer-and-burger hangout, steak dinner is served.

“We’re just trying to push the food. We like to say we don’t do fast food, we do fresh food as fast as we can,” Ashcraft said.

He said the city’s help was important, and that he’s thankful it came along at the time it did.

“This wouldn’t have happened so quickly if it wasn’t for that,” he said.